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How Would An Old Law Help US Courts To Bypass Phone Encryption?


The law enforcement agencies in the United States (US) have been tirelessly pushing for laws that will require a security backdoor on your phone for the sake of public transparency in the eyes of their government. Due to the loss of public trust in these security agencies, especially the National Security Agency (NSA) after it was involved in rampant spying on its own citizens, the law enforcement agencies are finding it hard to get their point across. While the security agencies sweat over the issue of access to information, judges have been trying to revive an old law, called All Writs Act of 1789, that grants courts the power to serve justice by requiring phone manufacturers to provide “reasonable technical assistance” to extract information from locked devices. If the honorable judges succeed in reviving the old law, then it will require mobile phone manufacturers to help law enforcement agencies to decrypt private phones. One should keep in mind here that such things are easier said than done due to many reasons that will be discussed further in this article.

The problem with the above mentioned proposal is that the most renowned Android and iOS operating systems manufacturers have introduced up-to-date encryption on their devices that couldn’t be decrypted by the companies concerned since they don’t store user passwords in their database. According to a general perception, any court or members of law enforcement agencies could ask Apple or Samsung to try and dig out user information, but the success rate would be low since all renowned mobile devices’ manufacturing companies offer encrypted phones to their users. In short, companies won’t be able to help courts much because they couldn’t access vital user data on their own.

Sane Voices In Congress

A major hurdle in the way of law enforcement agencies, particularly the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), are members of the Congress who have opposed FBI director James Comey requests to allow the agency a backdoor access to encrypted mobile devices. Members of Congress, including House Representatives Darell Issa and Zoe Lofgren, along with Senator Ron Wyden have consistently opposed the FBI move by saying that there was no chance whatsoever that such a bill would be passed in the House.

The main arguments of these politicians revolved around the perception that law enforcement agencies have shamelessly been spying on US citizens without a slight shred of accountability, which in turn has led to the public distrusting their own agencies. The NSA has been the main agency that has been in the eye of the storm and recently the House successfully passed a bill that banned the NSA from establishing backdoor access to personal information of unwary citizens. It seems that the pleas of the FBI would most probably fall on deaf ears when they push for impeding the rights of US citizens in the coming days.

Information Security In The Real World

Law enforcement agencies in the US have been and would continue to push the legal limits in a bid to gain backdoor access to public information in order to bring their operations within legal boundaries. Even if the bill is not passed, the FBI would still have some sort of access to your mobile device because the entire machine couldn’t be made perfectly safe. Surveillance agents would still be able to intercept your phone calls and other data that is not protected by passwords. Apart from the federal agents, an expert hacker would also be able to gain access to mobile devices to exploit user data, though the entire process would require the hacker to have a highly specialized set of skills. FBI can access your data through different means but this doesn’t mean that your entire data would be at their disposal because it wouldn’t be. A large portion of user information would still remain protected from the prying eyes of the feds.

For now, mobile device owners should feel secure that their data couldn’t be entirely exploited by a third party because mobile device manufacturers are offering device encryption by default which considerably improves the security of the hardware. Federal agents and hackers would have to try very hard to gain access to your device and even then they won’t be able to exploit your data to their liking. The general public has nothing to worry about for the time being but they still have to ensure that their data remains protected to avoid data breach and humiliation for a small mistake with big consequences.